Part One

They'd been in the car about an hour and Angel hadn't had to admonish Spike once about the radio, fidgeting or smoking. Spike had been the perfect shotgun passenger. Angel smiled; Spike riding shotgun, the Western motif was appealing to a closet Bonanza fan. In fact, Spike was being so good that Angel was bored out of his mind.

They'd gotten him cleaned up at the mansion and into a new pair of jeans and one of Angel's old sweaters, one that Buffy had accidentally shrunk back in the day when she and Angel had been playing 'let's pretend we're normal', back when his sense of delusion easily matched that of a seventeen year old girl.

Angel glanced over at his brooding grandchilde. Spike was staring at the highway with the single minded intensity of the truly zoned. Angel tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and tried to think of something to say to one of the most annoying creatures on the face of the planet, or at least he had been, without starting a fight.

"So, how was Africa?"

Spike turned and gave Angel a look of disbelief. "It was great, best time to go what with it being the off season and all." He answered dryly, rolling his eyes.

Angel winced, ah Hell he never was any good at small talk unless he was trying to talk some lass into bed or enticing a meal to its fate.

"Right, sorry."

Spike nodded before asking politely, "So I hear you have a son now, how's that working out?"

Angel gave a short, sharp laugh, "He tried to kill me."

Spike grimaced, "Oh. Sorry."

"Yeah, well, you know kids, probably better than I do what with Dawn and all." Angel shrugged trying to put the younger vampire at ease.

"Dawn and I don't talk anymore," Spike said flatly.

Angel sighed softly.

"Look mate, let's quit while we're ahead right?" Spike offered.

"Yeah," Angel agreed. "Got a cigarette?"

"I quit," Spike met his Grandsire's stare with slightly defensive look.

Angel made a quick decision, pulling off the freeway across two lanes of traffic and into a truck stop parking lot in a whirl of dust and squeal of tires and honking horns. Spike grabbed the dashboard and door handle and hung on for dear unlife.

"What the bloody Hell was that all about. You could have killed someone you great brooding git!" Spike yelled at the older vamp. If his heart needed to beat it would have been going a mile a minute.

Angel calmly turned the engine off and stared at the distraught blonde. "I want a cigarette," he stated blandly before getting out and walking into the store.

Spike blinked and took a deep breath before following the older vampire inside. He stared with disinterest at the various snack foods on offer while waiting for Angel. There was something seriously wrong with his Grandsire, he was acting very oddly for the broody vampire Spike was used to; more like the vampire Dru and Darla had run into last year. Of course his kid did try to kill him; wait a minute, the baby tried to kill him?

"Angel?" Spike waited until the older vampire had lit smoke and taken his first puff. "Did you say the baby tried to off you?"


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It took Angel over an hour to explain the past year to Spike and after he was done all the blonde could do was stare and ask, "And you think you can help me get a handle on things?"

"Don't be a smartass." Angel pulled up in front of the hotel and killed the engine. Turning to get out of the car, he was stopped by Spike's hand on his arm.

"Angel, I meant it." Spike met the dark-eyed glare with one of his own.

"You're a fucking mess mate. I mean I'm insane, what's your excuse?"

"I don't need an excuse and I don't deny that I may be a 'fucking mess" but I've survived worse than this over the years so if you don't think I can function, you're wrong. Now get your ass inside before I lose my temper." Angel gave a chilly smile and motioned his childe inside.

Spike gave him a rebellious look before turning a stalking into the hotel. The lobby was eerily quiet. Of course, as Angel had said, there was no Cordy or Wes and Fred and Gunn didn't seem to be around. So Spike simply stood in the lobby and waited for Angel to finish bedding his car down for the night.

"You hungry," Angel asked?

Spike gave a slight shudder and shook his head. He was, but he didn't want to be.

Angel lit another cigarette and gave the younger vampire a hard look. "First thing you need to get over is that you're a vampire and we drink blood; it's not good or bad it's just the way it is, okay?"

Spike nodded reluctantly following him to the kitchen. Where's your 'gang'?"

"Out having a life I assume." Angel placed two mugs of blood in the microwave to heat.

"Nice to know someone is," Spike muttered under his breath.

Angel smiled thinly and handed him a mug. More strained silence followed as Spike sat uncomfortably at the kitchen table and Angel leaned against the counter smoking and drinking.

Spike nearly jumped when a young man seemed to appear in the kitchen. The teenager was good looking in a sullen sort of way and Spike deduced that this must be Connor. He glanced uneasily at Angel but the older vamp didn't even bat an eye at the unexpected appearance.

"What do you want Connor?"

"I came to get some of my stuff," the boy raised his chin, ready for a fight keeping a wary eye on Spike.

Spike hid a smile and calmly sipped his blood, concentrating on not gagging.

"Well?" Angel motioned to the stairs, "You know where everything is."

Connor glowered at his father before turning to Spike and demanding, "Who are you?"

"I'm your nephew William, pleased to meet you." Spike nodded amiably.

Connor frowned but before he could ask another question, Angel interrupted gently, "Connor, your stuff?"

The boy glared at his father before turning and stomping out of the room.

"Reminds me of his mum in one of her moods," Spike remarked mildly.

"He's got her eyes too," Angel finished his blood and rinsed the mug out in the sink.

Spike contemplated his Grandsire's turned back before downing the rest of his blood.

He stood to wash the mug out when a sudden rush of dizziness overcame him. The kitchen seemed to shift and now he was staring at another kitchen where a young mother stood washing up after the evening meal. He could hear the radio in the living room; 'Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!' He remembers smiling cruelly as he stood framed in the open doorway, hat in hand, just one of hundreds of down on their luck lads looking for a meal and wasn't that the truth.

She hadn't let him in, no but she'd fixed him a basket and handed it to him through the door and that was all the opening he'd needed. Killed her quick and clean he had, not a sound to alert her husband or the kiddies in the other room listening to good triumph over evil. He'd left her propped on the doorstep, all nice and neat. He'd been a half mile down the road when he
heard a child's high pitched scream of terror and taking a bite of the apple she'd given him, stopped to savor the moment.

"Hush boy, crying won't help any of them now." Angel soothed the shaking blonde in his arms.

"Make it stop, please?" Spike pleaded brokenly.

"No, I can't and its best if you don't try; just hang on and let it pass. That's the only way to deal with it. I used to try to stop it but it was worse the next time. The dead don't like to be ignored boy; give 'em their due." Angel brushed the soft curls back and held the grieving man until the tears dried and the unnatural panting ceased.

Spike wiped his face ineffectually until Angel silently handed him a handkerchief.

"I'll show you your room." Angel stood gracefully and helped the smaller man to his feet.

Spike met his dark eyed companion's stare. "Lesson one learned," he stated firmly.

Angel smiled sadly in acknowledgment.
 

Part Two

Spike woke to the sound of arguing. His internal clock told him it was probably about two in the afternoon. He'd been dreaming but all he could remember was the scent of old roses, smelling faintly musty in the afternoon sun. Where had he been? Spike shook his head and leaned back against the headboard listening to the voices rise and fall like waves on the shore.

The argument was about him, of course. Not completely, but in a great part; a man's voice was yelling that Angel had no right to bring something 'like that' into the house without consulting them first.

A woman's voice, hesitant and almost too soft to catch: "Charles,... he didn't mean...please?"

"He can't hurt you and he won't be here that long." Angel sounded agitated and slightly defensive.

Spike sighed; he despaired of Angel ever gaining any social graces. He very obviously hadn't informed his roommates that they'd have a houseguest for a while but then what did they expect from a Master Vampire?

He kicked the covers back and sat on the edge of the bed staring at the floor. He should go downstairs and introduce himself to the kiddies, make nice and docile so they wouldn't worry but really, what was the point?

A door slammed with impressive finality as the argument abruptly ended. He smiled briefly; well perhaps patience was a virtue after all.

He padded into the bathroom and took a long hot shower and was unsurprised to see Angel sitting on his bed when he came out.

"You know," Spike began conversationally, "it's a good idea to tell your roommates when you're bringing people home; avoids the 2 am embarrassment in the hallway and the uncomfortable conversations at breakfast." Spike turned away, pulling on his jeans before removing the towel around his waist.

Angel raised an eyebrow at this uncharacteristic display of modesty but then this was a different Spike.

"It is my building," Angel didn't pout exactly, not exactly.

Spike pulled on his tee shirt and gave the older vampire an 'if you say so' shrug before sitting to
pull on his socks.

"What's on the agenda for today?" Spike asked.

"Breakfast and then, beginning meditation," Angel stood briskly and smirked at his speechless companion. He reached out and closed the younger vampire's mouth. "You'll let the flies in," before ambling out the door.

Spike fought the urge to stick his tongue out at the retreating back of his host before lacing his boots and following Angel downstairs.

He expected the lobby to be empty but there was a thin dark haired girl sitting at the front desk going through a stack of bills.

She gave him a shy, wary smile and held out her hand.

"Hi, I'm Fred. I live here too, upstairs I mean, with Angel." She stuttered to a stop, realizing what she'd said and blushed, "Not with Angel, just in the building." She stumbled to a halt, out of breath and flustered but then gave him such an earnest smile that Spike couldn't help but be touched.

He took her hand politely, "Pleased to make your acquaintance Fred. You can call me Spike. I apologize for Angel not giving you the heads up about me coming for a visit but that's my grandsire, all masterful and tight-lipped." He bent his head and dropped his voice to a whisper, "Used to drive the ladies wild." He rolled his eyes theatrically and she burst into giggles before covering her mouth after risking a quick glance at the kitchen.

Spike winked and felt his spirits lift a bit as he went into the kitchen; enough in fact that he gave Angel a bit of a cheeky grin in response to the taller man's questioning look. Angel grunted a response and passed him a mug.

"So Master Po, your Grasshopper is ready," Spike stated solemnly after finishing his blood as quickly as possible.

"Huh?" Angel stared at him before shaking his head in dismissal. Spike was always talking in non sequitars, no wonder he was able to deal with Dru all those years.

Spike gave a soft sigh; well that went right over the taller man's head, truth be told, he hadn't had a decent conversation with anyone in his family since he'd been turned; bloodshed and mayhem did not count. He missed it; talking about books or music or shows and the like. It had always been the same, even in the old days; he'd make a comment with a human reference and get odd looks or the back of someone's hand. It appeared that some things never change.

"Never mind," Spike stood and followed Angel downstairs where the older vampire had a small, screened off area set up complete with incense bowl, candle and mat.

"Take your boots off and sit quietly," Angel lit the candle and incense before sitting cross legged on the mat.

Spike made a bit of a production getting set up, more to cover his nervousness than annoy his Sire. The dark and the quiet reminded him too much of the high school basement where he'd learned that silence was only a prelude to torment.

Angel watched Spike tap his fingers against his knee for a moment before reaching over and firmly grasping his hands and laying them palm up on his thighs.

"Be still; be quiet and breathe with me," Angel told the blonde. "Watch me, see me, be in me," he intoned softly, sounding eerily like Drusilla but then why not? He'd taught Princess all her tricks.

Spike stared at into Angel's eyes and tried to match him breath for breath but the candle would flicker and the shadows would change and twist like living things and he would lose count and have to start over.

"Dammit Will, pay attention," Angel snarled after Spike lost the count for the third time.

"I'm trying," he cried. "It's not like breathing's gonna calm my heart is it?"

"It's an exercise in discipline so I'm not surprised you're having trouble but we're not leaving this basement until you at least get the basics down so focus." Angel ground out each word, precise and cold with more than an echo of Angelus in the command, his eyes rimmed with a hint of demon gold and Spike winced and tried again.

He focused on Angel's eyes, held now by the hint of Angelus in their depths and felt the room recede until his world consisted of whiskey brown eyes dancing in the candlelight and sweetly scented air moving through his lungs in a long forgotten rhythm.

In, out, in and out until he felt almost dizzy with the repetition; as if the breath really was clearing his head and opening his senses and he began to feel afraid. He wanted to cry "Enough"; that it was too much this feeling. He felt the demon thrash and wail in the corner of his soul that it had claimed for itself and he felt a stab of empathy for his immortal companion but even that wasn't enough to loosen his tongue and give voice to his terror.

"I'm here Will. You're not alone, never alone again whether you wish to be or not and I'm sorry for that my lad. I'd not wish this on my worst enemy and you were never that Will." Angel soothed gently.

"What. Is. This?" Spike barely managed to croak the question out.

"The terror?"

Spike tried to nod; he must have managed it because Angel answered him.

"That's life Will. That's your soul trying to reconnect with the world, with life again after being away so long and nothing could frighten your demon more." Angel's voice was hushed and weary like an old man's, worn by a lifetime or several of explanations and commiserations.

"Why?" Spike was able to speak more clearly, the fear was receding slowly, not leaving but rather stepping into the background, graciously ceding the floor to the man for now but continuing to hover in the wings patiently awaiting its return.

Angel didn't answer him immediately choosing instead to light another stick of incense from the candle. Spike noticed with a start that it had burned down almost half way and realized that they must have been in this room for hours.

"In the beginning, I thought that the dead should stay away from the living. I was an abomination in the eyes of God and I did my best to accept that judgment. But as the years grow longer it gets harder to be alone and I found that one can grow used to anything given enough time."

Spike gave a rueful smile in agreement, thinking of the chip.

"So after a few decades I began to move among them again; not too often mind and not too much. They tended to grate on my nerves and my demon; but every once in a while I would go out to a pub and have a drink and watch them fight and fuss and love and hate and think how lucky they were, even the loneliest among them was never truly alone with others of its kind about." Angel caught Spike's eye and laughed wryly.

"I know, what a great git I was eh? What's the phrase 'couldn't see the forest for the trees'? It took me nigh on fifty years before I tried to reach out to one of them, tried to help." Angel gestured at the walls, "right here in this hotel in fact. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that it ended badly," Angel's eyes took on a far away look, "for all concerned."

"I didn't try again, not until Buffy." He gave Spike a bitter smile, "and didn't that turn out well."

"She still loves you. She's never stopped; she never will." Spike said it simply, without bitterness, and wasn't that a wonder, he thought.

"I know," Angel said simply thinking of a day spent in the sunshine not so long ago. "But I told you when I brought you here that you'd get the benefit of my hard won lessons and here's one of them: I can't connect with other people, not with humans and not with demons because in the end I envy one too much and can't help hating the other." Angel gave him a twisted smile. "If I can't have it all I can't seem to settle for any and isn't that a sad truth to have learned after all this time?"

"You could try," Spike began hesitantly, uncomfortable and unsure of what to say never having even envisioned such a conversation with this man.

"I could, but I don't want to," Angel said in a flat, final tone of voice and Spike felt and unwanted stab of sympathy for the older demon. He tried to think of something to say but Angel laughed suddenly and stretched his arms, working out the kinks from hours of sitting. "But you do Spike, you'll take what you can get and make the best of it. You always have and you always will."

Angel reached down to help him to his feet. "You're not gonna spend the next fifty years watching life pass you by my lad, trying to keep your head above water and failing." He cupped the Spike's head and brought him closer, "By the time you leave my house you'll have learned to take Life by the hand no matter where she leads or you won't be leaving at all."

Spike straightened, chin up, a hint of gold in his eyes and glared at the taller man, "Bring it on grandfather; bring it on."

Angel cuffed him gently and Spike growled.

"Lesson Two seems to be taking then," laughing in appreciation Angel led the way up the stairs.

 

Part Three

Spike was sitting in the kitchen chatting with Fred and digesting Angel's words of wisdom as well as his second mug of blood when Gunn made his appearance.

Bad enough Spike had blood on his mouth; worse, he was talking to Fred and the clincher? She didn't seem to mind, judging by the way she was laughing and carrying on, even Angel had cracked a smile or two before he'd wandered into the other room, leaving his two 'reality challenged wards' to their own devices.

"What the Hell's goin on Fred?" Gunn shouted. "Get away from him, can't you see what he is?" Gunn didn't drag her from her seat, not quite anyway, but he did pull a stake and get into Spike's face, up close and personal. Spike didn't know whether the man had guts or was too dumb to know better. Either way, he'd made many a meal in his day of some human who thought he could play alpha to the vampire and then found out too late that real predators took their games very seriously indeed.

"Charles," Fred tapped his shoulder in irritation. She'd been enjoying the conversation with the nice blonde man, well vampire, and didn't appreciate the interruption. He was the only other person she'd met aside from Angel and Lorne who didn't make her feel self conscious when she went off on one of her tangents. He seemed to find them amusing and was content to let her ramble while interjecting a dry witticism here and there. He liked to make her laugh and he liked her and so she liked him back; as simple as that or it had been until Charles appeared all growly and protective, which was nice, usually, but not now, not while she was making a new friend.

"Don't worry baby, I'll handle this," Gunn shushed her sweetly before refocusing his attention on the vampire calmly watching him. In fact, Spike hadn't said a word and only moved to wipe his mouth on his napkin. Otherwise he was watching Gunn with a mild look of polite interest on his face as if waiting for the man to do something to warrant such a spectacular
entrance.

"Look I'm on to you and your English ways," Gunn shook the stake in his hand menacingly. Spike raised an eyebrow in response: 'English ways' eh? Someone other than Angel apparently had Wesley issues as well.

"Charles?" Fred tapped her boyfriend's shoulder again but this time with slightly more force and a stronger twang to her native accent. Anyone who had known her pre-Pylea would have recognized that as a warning sign; Gunn, unfortunately, did not.

"It's okay, baby, I've got it covered," Gunn soothed absently.

Spike hid a smile and attempted to look interested while waiting for the explosion. He'd caught the narrowed eyes and thinned lip look that Fred shot her oblivious 'protector'.

"I don't like you here, I don't want you here but as long as you stay here you're gonna keep out of my way and stay away from my lady. You got that, yes or no?" Gunn snarled.

Spike watched Fred's eyes flare in outrage at the last part of the demand.

"I asked you a question, demon; now what's your answer?"

"Thar she blows," Spike gave the irate human a cocky grin.

"Huh?"

"Charles Emerson Gunn how dare you sir!" Gunn whirled at the unexpected attack from the rear, completely unprepared for the sight of his sweetheart in full battle mode and aiming her sights on him.

"Fred, honey..."

"Don't you honey me Charles. What do you think you're doing? This man is a guest in this house and where I come from you do not treat guests this way." Fred glared daggers at him.

"But ..." Gunn sputtered ineffectually and Spike almost felt sorry for him, almost.

"He's Angel's grandson and he's come home for help from the only family he has and you stand there and berate him as if this is your house and you have a right to do so? I don't think so Charles."

"Now just a minute Fred. He's dangerous. I looked him up; he's a bloodthirsty, cunning devil who used good looks and charm to make meals out of his victims." Gunn fired back.

Spike winced, Gunn had a point and Fred faltered for a moment. Spike resigned himself to loosing a new friend but then Gunn made a fatal error.

"Especially, women like you Fred," Gunn added in what he thought was a completely reasonable tone of voice.

"Women like me?" Fred asked gently.

Gunn frowned, sensing a tactical shift and not in his favor. "Well yeah, you know..." Gunn floundered.

"Trusting?" Fred supplied helpfully.

Gunn blinked like a deer caught in the headlights.

"Or maybe you meant - na´ve? Or could you have been thinking, gullible, simple, daft, not quite right in the head, do any of those ring a bell Charles?"

"No baby, I . . ."

Spike decided that now might be good time to try and exercise some of that newfound humanity Angel was spouting off about earlier.

"I think what Gunn meant to say was beautiful women like you. I loved chatting up the good looking birds and I've always had a fondness for brunettes." Spike gave her a slow, warm smile and tried not to think about what happened to the last pretty brunette he'd chatted up. She'd managed to scratch him and he hadn't like that, not at all.

He swallowed hard but held on to both his smile and his dinner. Fred blinked shyly and gave him a sweet smile before turning to her boyfriend arms crossed and eyebrows raised in inquiry. Gunn didn't look happy. He might not be a century old demon with the face of an angel and oozing foreign charm but no one could accuse him of being stupid. He wasn't going to win this
argument and if he tried he risked alienating both his sweetheart and the big broody semi-friend upstairs.  It was time to cut his losses and regroup.

"Yeah, that's exactly what I meant," he ground the words out.

"You mean all that was because . . . ? Oh, come here," Fred hugged him and kissed his cheek, all smiles now that his odd behavior was explained. Men, were so strange sometimes, they got jealous over the silliest little things.

"Let's go upstairs and get you cleaned up and you can tell me all about your day." Fred soothed, gently drawing Gunn away from the kitchen. She threw an apologetic look over her shoulder on the way out and Spike winked in return before sighing softly in boredom and glancing at the kitchen clock. Eight o'clock in the evening and nothing to do but sit around and practice his breathing techniques and brood, what joy, no wonder Angel was a few cards short of a full deck. Hmmm, cards?

He rifled through the kitchen drawers looking for the deck of playing cards he'd located earlier.

Shuffle, cut, spread, shuffle, cut, ace of hearts; reshuffle, cut, ace of hearts, palm the ace and reshuffle again, face blank as he went through the well practiced motions over and over again, salvation in the form of repetition but alas, his mind began to
wander.


 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 
"Oh look at the pretty pictures my Spike, blood roses scattered on the tabletop; cut him again for mummy, my sweet, make Princess happy."

"Have mercy," the barest whisper.

An arc of silver caught in the gaslight as the blade made another cut; "I don't like cheats," he'd hissed.


 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Shuffle, cut, spread and fold; "Another word out of you my boy and I'll stake you out in the courtyard for the dawn to find!" Angelus backhanded him with a snarl, pouncing before he had a chance to recover, grabbing his neck and shaking him like a mastiff with a rat.

"Let me go, you bloody bastard!" Spike howled.

"Why do you keep drawing attention to yourself, to us? Do ye even know boy?" Angelus stared at the unkempt childe in his hand with honest confusion.

And Spike, as he now insisted on being called, stilled his futile struggles for the briefest moment, his eyes straying to Darla and Dru, huddled together in the corner whispering to each other as they watched the show. Dru gave him the smallest smile; a shy look in her eyes and Spike felt a well-hidden flicker of warmth flare to life, fanned by that tiny smile. He struck an ineffectual punch at his Grandsire.

"Let go you great arse!"

Angelus growled and began to methodically beat him into submission, again.


 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Shuffle, cut - ace of spades; shuffle, cut - ace of diamonds; shuffle cut - ace of hearts; shuffle, cut...

"Hello Uncle," Spike palmed the ace of clubs and started again.

Connor stepped out of the shadows and frowned at him, sure he was being laughed at, unsure though, what to do about it.

"Your dad's upstairs," Spike answered.

"I know," was returned with sullen superiority. Spike smiled at the tone and cut the deck five times in rapid succession pulling the ace of clubs out every time.

Connor slouched nearer the table, interested but unwilling to show it to this demon his father had taken into his home. He watched the blonde's rapid hand movements, trying to see how he kept getting the same card over and over.

Spike for his part, kept his thoughts to himself, content to wait.

"Is it a trick?" Connor finally asked, curiosity overcoming his hostility.

"Naw, it's skill isn't it," Spike fanned the cards out in a long line and neatly flipped them back with slight flourish.

"My father said that gambling was a sin," Connor half sneered although his eyes never strayed from Spike's nimble fingers.

"Yeah, my old man used to say the same thing," Spike laughed shortly continuing his play, the shuffling of the cards the only sound in the still of the kitchen until a final cut brought the ace of hearts back to the top of the deck. Spike smiled wryly, lifting his eyes to meet the half surly, half interested look of the teen standing before him.

"Want me to teach you then?"


 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Angel cocked his head to the side, sensing the near presence of his son. He sighed soundlessly and exhaled the cigarette smoke from his lungs. He had to restrain himself from running down the stairs to see his boy. He acknowledged that there was a deluded, optimistic part of him that kept hoping every time Connor showed up it was to say he was sorry and ask for forgiveness. Yeah, like that was going to happen anytime soon, Angel snorted inelegantly. And as had happened so often these past two weeks, Angel found himself wondering if this is exactly what his father had felt every time he'd screwed up or come home too drunk to stand.

He smiled ruefully; what was that parental curse? "I hope someday you have a child that does to you exactly what you are doing to me now; then you'll know what it feels like."

Angel tipped his head back and studied the night sky; "Score one for you Da. You and Mama got a bit of your own back with this one. He disapproves of me too. I expect if I spent any time with him he'd soon be quoting the scriptures to me, chapter and verse, just like you used to do."

Angel took another drag of cigarette and sipped at the whiskey in his hand before continuing.

"He doesn't approve of drinking either or carousing with loose women no doubt. Near as I can tell the only vice he's got is the desire to commit patricide." Angel toasted the heavens with his glass and a wry twist of his mouth. "Well, at least we've that in common."

He belted back the rest of his whiskey, feeling it burn its way down his throat, giving the momentary illusion of warmth to his insides. Ah well, best get downstairs and make sure Fred didn't find Connor and shoot him or something.

 
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Connor had excellent hand and eye coordination and Spike was having no trouble teaching him how to palm cards. Ah, the money the two of them could make in Vegas, shame he wasn't evil anymore.

Connor cut the deck and brought up the King of Hearts and favored the blonde vampire with a genuine smile. Spike felt a bittersweet tug on his heartstrings. The boy had looked just like Darla for a moment and while his Great grandsire had never been one of Spike's favorite people he'd been forced to admit on more than one occasion that there was more to her than met the eye and she'd deserved respect.

As if privy to his thoughts, Connor gave the vampire a quick look before asking with desperate nonchalance, "What was my mother like?"

Spike favored him with a sympathetic look realizing that the child in front of him wanted the truth but not the Truth. He'd come to the right vamp; this was Spike's specialty.

"She was a precise woman; a stickler for comportment and doing things in a proper manner. She had a way about her, a style all her own and she held to it even in the worst adversity." Spike remembered her face at the gypsy camp upon learning that he had destroyed her only hope of getting Angelus back. Of course he hadn't known that at the time but he'd known something terrible had happened.

She'd slumped slightly, her shoulders drooping before drawing herself up straight, squiring and giving a brief nod of her head as if to say, 'Well, that's that then,' and shepherding them home to an empty house.

She'd done her best by him and Dru; written them letters of introduction to all the European courts and houses, along with a purse full of money and a minion a piece. She'd been seated in the parlor when they'd come downstairs to say their goodbyes. She'd startled them by offering her cheek for a farewell kiss. His last memory of her in silhouette; a petite young woman flawlessly attired, staring sightlessly into the fireplace, alone and grieving.

"There was a time and a place for everything and everything in its place. She was strict, she didn't put up with foolishness except maybe from your dad" Spike smiled at the engrossed teen.

"He treated her like a queen; only the best for your mum; clean sheets and a room with a view and she adored him, gave up quite a bit to be with him too or so I'd heard."

"They loved each other then, two vampires?" Connor asked almost shyly.

Spike hesitated.

"I've only ever loved one woman more," Angel answered softly and if it wasn't exactly an undying declaration Connor didn't notice or care.

"I have to go," the teen stood, handing the pack of cards to Spike with an embarrassed look of thanks.

"You could stay?" Angel whispered but if Connor heard him he gave no sign as he headed for the door.

"Hey Uncle!" Spike called. The boy sighed looking very much like his father for a moment, and turned to face the blonde.

"Next time we'll practice drawing to an inside straight eh?" Spike gave him a bit of his old trademark cheeky grin and Connor shuffled a little, casting a quick almost defiant look at his father before giving a nod and making a quick exit.

"Looks like you've made a friend," Angel commented, too tired to be bitter.

"Naw, he's just using me as an excuse to come home." Spike starting shuffling the deck of cards again, "Just you wait mate, soon he'll be showing up to do his laundry and raid your fridge so you better start laying in some decent food; growing boy and all that, Spike gave him a quiet smile.

Angel straddled a chair across from his wayward grandchilde and watched him shuffle the cards; watched his face shift with his changing emotions and thought back to the sad wreck he'd found in the high school basement only a few days ago; thought back too, to his own run-in with the First and those first days, months, years with the new soul.

"How's reality today?" Angel asked.

Spike shuffled the deck, ('Cut him again for Princess, cut him again.' 'Why do you keep drawing attention to us boy?' 'Oh please God Mister not my little girl, please? I'm begging you!' 'But I love you!' 'By the time you leave my house you'll have learned to take Life by the hand no matter where she leads or you won't be leaving at all.')

"Tolerable Angel, tolerable," Spike met the darker vampire's eyes with a wry smile.

Angel blinked before giving the younger vampire a slow, genuine grin. "Tolerable," he tried the word out, tasting it on his tongue before laughing out loud for the first time in weeks, maybe years. He stood and cuffed the blonde affectionately across the head, earning a mock glare of outrage.

"C'mon, let's go hunting."

"I thought we soul having types didn't go in for hunting anymore."

"Fine we'll call it patrolling then."

"As long as I don't have to do anymore of that breathing business."

"It's an exercise in meditation to help you focus. Why am I not surprised that you're having trouble with that?"

"You don't breath."

"I'm already focused."

"No, you're boring. It's not the same thing. I can see how someone like you could make that mistake though."

"Focused!"

"Boring!"

"Welcome to my life, where no good deed goes unpunished."

"Hey you made a joke!"

"Spike!"



The End